People & Money

Malabu: ENI Accuses US Firm of Funding Nigeria’s Court Case

Italian oil major, Eni, is hunting for documents from a United States investment firm assisting Nigeria sue it and Royal Dutch Shell for over $1 billion regarding an oil and gas deal, currently the subject of a criminal corruption litigation.

Eni alleges that “undisclosed interests” are fuelling the Nigerian governments’ litigation “at the expense of Eni’s contractual rights and the national interest of Nigeria.”

Eni desires liberty to subpoena information from Drumcliffe Partners LLC, the investment firm, to reinforce its defence in the corruption trial in Milan.

It is the latest phase in a long-standing tussle over a 2011 contract, involving Nigeria and two oil and gas firms.

Also Read: Eni/Shell Corruption Suit Puts Eni CEO’s Future in Limbo

Originally, the Nigerian government backed Eni’s strategy for developing its offshore OPL (Oil Prospecting Licence) 245, but later resolved to launch a muti-jurisdictional legal warfare against the company, Eni said in a memo filed in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Delaware, on 6th October.

Eni disclosed it now has cause to believe Nigerian government’s actions are influenced by third parties intent on earning illicit profits, and has sought approval to demand that seven Delaware-registered companies supply documents on the arrangements they set up for Nigeria’s OPL 245 litigation.

“We look forward to discrediting Eni’s conspiracy theories and wild innuendo,” said Drumcliffe principal Jim Little in an email, adding that the application to the court is “entirely baseless.”

Eni and Shell have been on trial in Italy for two years. Prosecutors say the firms were awarded the licence nine years ago by paying a sum in the neighbourhood of $1.1 billion into an escrow account for the Nigerian government. Authorities say around $800 million was later transferred to Malabu Oil and Gas Limited, a firm controlled by a former minister of petroleum, Dan Etete, who initially had awarded OPL 245 permit to himself while he was Minister, and distributed as payoffs.

The Nigerian government insists that Eni and Shell pay a $1.1 billion sanction.

Also Read: Oil Prices Slide Further as U.S. Producers Restore Output, but Nigeria’s Bonny Light Gains $0.30

The two companies have denied any wrongdoing and claim they acquired OPL 245 via properly consummated agreements with the Nigerian government, involving settling Malabu’s pending claim to the block.

The prosecutor has pressed for an eight-year prison term Claudio Descalzi, Eni’s chief executive and Paolo Scaroni, his predecessor, who similarly denied wrongdoing.

A media outlet based in Nigeria published in August what it called the contract between Drumcliffe and the law firm. Some clauses of the “opaque and ambiguous” deal showed the litigation funder could be entitled to as much as 35% of the government-recovered funds or almost $400 million in the case of the Milan trial, Eni’s memorandum showed.

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